August 3, 2013

Never have I seen such a beautiful alignment of The Heavens as arranges itself on the low horizon of the East at 4 am, a while before first light … Jupiter … Crescent Moon … Orion … above them all, the Pleiades. The martins do not add their own vocal sparkle until 4:30 or so; something changes with them, they fill the air later, closer to sunrise which is itself coming later but not so markedly as to explain the change in the birds’ schedule.

The morning air is thick, thick with humidity, thick with Mourning Doves, thick with the whistling of dove wings. I find a single Kochia scoparia–“Poor Man’s Alfalfa”–a Eurasian amaranth brought in long ago in hopes of improving cattle grazing but now widely invasive on The River not far from Mason’s. It hasn’t been noticed right here before, and we may not welcome it particularly given the reports of its toxicity if not given tedious management. Oh goody, another weed problem. “Oh well, at least we’ve got the flowering stage Bull Thistle in here taken care of,” I gloat to myself of course just before finding one of those. Hubris, and payback.

As this humid day winds down, but long before sunset, I sit in the truck at the edge of The Stockpond and listen to the mellow whistles of a Blue Grosbeak still singing out his mating song and territorial declarations. Then, out from the grove of mesquite and hackberry to the right comes floating–for it seems barely to move, and is more suspended in the air with how it can fly with hardly a wingbeat–a bat larger than any I’ve yet seen in Arizona. Oh it is superb, of a strange color and pattern, flashing pale brown and darker brown and I suppose it is a trick of the light that makes its wings looked striped as it comes back and forth across the pond. In this flight it is slow and graceful, its wings whose whole span must measure at least a foot across are hardly pumped; it barely dips in its slow and level movement to the water for a dainty, quick sip. All this would be incredible enough, but the ears–the ears look impossibly large. They are very long, and stick out in front of the head nearly horizontally or at not much of a raised angle, with ends flipped out and up like a pair of antlers! After good long looks at it with binoculars, I see it alight in one of the little mesquites on the bank and swing there for a while, lick and groom its wings and body happily, with an uncannily friendly look on its face. It drops out into air and swings low back over the water for another drink, and does this repeatedly until thirst is quenched. [This habit before the light was gone will not match anything I can find on large Arizona bats with huge ears, but Nancy F. helps with the identification by contacting her bat biologist friend Ronnie S., who kindly gave advice and thinks it likely is the Townsend’s Big-eared Bat. Everything I read about the species does confirm this; I never see another, it is amazing luck to have been there for this one’s visit.]